so the apple cake we made a few days ago is, supposedly, an old family recipe: we just asked partner’s mother, who said “it’s my mother’s recipe, and before her, my grandmother’s – it’s an old eastern european jewish recipe”.
… it’s almost identical to this recipe – partner’s version has more orange juice, and drops the vanilla, and the whole thing has been scaled up a little.
i’m just charmed by the way everyone thinks it’s a family recipe, and in the end, everyone got it from a magazine or a neighbor (who in turn got it from a magazine).
And the recipe, it didn’t come from her mother or her mother’s mother (“My mother? Bake a cake? Ha!” my mother said.) but a clipping that a neighbor gave her from some now-defunct magazine.
My grandmother makes a very similar cake in a bundt pan. I liked to make up stories that it was from her mother’s mother and filled with mystery and mystique and then she told me she got it out of a Home and Garden magazine only 20 or so years ago.
We have something in common! This exact recipe was considered a family heirloom. I remember adding it to my family tree history for a school assignment. My father made up stories about it – something about escaping Poland with it. And then one day my mother came clean, it was just a recipe my mom got at the tennis club from one of her friends. The horror!
I kept thinking, there’s no way this could be the same recipe as MY mom’s apple cake, right? WRONG. It’s exactly the same recipe.
No way! My grandmother and mother make the EXACT same apple cake, and have passed the tradition on to me. I am, incidentally, amused to report that our recipe comes not from the old world or even an old neighbor, but instead from a 1960s Catholic church community cookbook.
now, what partner and i suspect has happened is this: oodles of eastern european jews immigrated to the US between 1880-1925, and with them came, if not recipes for apple cake, then at least the memory thereof. distinct-by-family apple cake recipes abounded.
at some point, some genius put orange juice in their apple cake. this recipe has a lot going for it: all the measurements are nice round numbers: 1 cup oil, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs. there’s a secret ingredient (orange juice). it’s hard to overbake it. it tastes great even if you mess up the ingredients. you bake it in a bundt pan and it looks pretty nice without any kind of glazing, maybe in a little bit of a retro 50s coffeecake kinda way, but the flavor’s good enough it doesn’t need anything extra.
so yeah, this recipe outcompeted all the other sharlotkas and szarlotkas out there, and now it’s everyone’s family recipe.
The cake may have first been written down in a church cookbook from Smith Island, Maryland in 1981, alongside spectacularly non-kosher items like “crab loaf.” I suspect that the cake is “Jewish” in the same way that old recipes label anything stir-fried as “Chinese” or anything with corn as “Mexican,” except with the weird bonus that the cake actually is easy to bake in kosher households, and, I suppose, that my actually Jewish family adopted it as our own.
(eta: it’s a cookbook for and by a community, certainly, but it doesn’t seem to actually be a church cookbook. also eta: i’ve figured it out; it was printed in two cookbooks within a few years of each other, the earlier being “Favorite Recipes from Trinity Church”, 1981 Maryland. )
there’s some similar apple cake recipes pre-1980, like this 1973 Teddy’s Apple Cake, but that one’s missing the orange juice.
it’s a very, very, very good cake, by the way.
#hmmmmm #holding the eggs constant (because the number of eggs here is simply double ours)‚ our cake has: #less apple (and the apples are sliced‚ *not* chopped) #((god that cake looks wrong‚ all *pebbly*)) #more sugar on the apples (but the same in the cake) #slightly more flour #more baking powder #(butter for the oil‚ but that’s a known variation) #no salt (and no‚ we don’t normally use salted butter) #much more orange juice (4x) #(no walnuts‚ but that’s a known variation) #baked in a loaf pan‚ not a tube pan #three layers of apple‚ not two #honestly I think it’s primarily that there are only so many ways to make a cake #though it’s very possible that this recipe is in the genetic lineage somewhere #food #history #amnesia cw #embarrassment squick #Judaism #tag rambles